Developer says sorry for wrongly felling trees and agrees to plant more

Councillors demanded more trees from a developer after two mature trees were felled to make way for a new building.

Planning conditions for new student housing at Park Wall Farm Cottages, in Station Approach, Falmer, required the developer to keep a mature sycamore and wych elm on the site.

When the Alumno Falmer building, containing about 70 student flats, was finished in September, both trees had gone.

Councillors called for better enforcement action when Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee was asked to grant retrospective permission to remove and replace two mature trees.

Labour councillor Clare Moonan asked for an explanation and apology from Westridge Construction for breaching the conditions and cutting down the trees.

Neal Mardon, from Westridge Construction, said that the company had exhausted all avenues on bringing services, water and electricity, into the building and had to remove one of the trees. A worker had removed the other one in error because of an incorrect drawing.

Mr Mardon said sorry for the mistake at a meeting of the Planning Committee at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 12 January).

And he said that the company had replaced the two trees with five “semi-mature” nursery trees.

Councillor Moonan said: “What are we doing here? The trees have gone. I feel very frustrated by that.

“If we put a condition on, developers should respect that. If they find during the progress of the development is not possible, they could come back to the committee and give an explanation of why.”

Councillor Moonan wanted sanctions against the developer for removing the trees but planning manager Jane Moseley said that the system was not set up to be “punitive”.

It leaned more towards the sending of “stern letters”, leaving the council with little option other than to accept replacement trees.

Independent councillor Tony Janio said that he had often asked how the council enforced planning conditions and had concluded that it didn’t.

He said: “I’ve even suggested hiring a JCB and knocking a few walls down – that would sort a few people out.

“The fact is people get away with this because we don’t enforce. Developers think we’re ‘a silly old soft council’. We’ll roll over and allow the new trees to be replaced.”

Councillor Janio said that if the council did not enforce what councillors said, he would vote against the application “on a matter of principle”.

Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that there was usually more than one solution to an engineering issue that would not involve breaching planning conditions.

He said: “If we are conditioning the protection of trees, yet at the same time we’ve got no ability to stop people hacking them down left, right and centre, then we’re doing no good at all with those conditions as a planning authority without putting something behind it.

“I would hope to have better policies in place or approaches to conditioning the protection of trees. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a policy if it can have a chainsaw taken to it.”

At Councillor Yates’s request, the committee agreed to write to the arboricultural consultant for the project to remind them that it was their responsibility to keep the two lost trees in place.

Conservative Carol Theobald said that she was upset about what had happened. She said: “This just isn’t good enough.”

It gave developers a licence to do what they wanted in future, she said, adding: “It’s a shame there isn’t enforcement here.”

Councillor Bridget Fishleigh

Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh initially wanted to vote against the application and asked about the implications.

Ms Moseley said that the applicant would be asked for a different scheme but there was no more space for planting on site as it was complete.

Councillor Fishleigh asked the committee for a new condition, initially asking for an extra 25 trees, but this was considered unreasonable by officers.

She asked instead for five additional trees “in the vicinity” and won unanimous backing from her fellow councillors.

The committee voted to grant the retrospective planning permission with the additional condition.

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